It's Playoff Time and the Los Angeles Lakers Need to Face Up

Paul PeszkoSenior Writer IApril 14, 2010

DENVER - APRIL 08:  Ty Lawson #3 of the Denver Nuggets gets off a shot over Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers during NBA action at the Pepsi Center on April 8, 2010 in Denver, Colorado. The Nuggets defeated the Lakers 98-96. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

As you read this, try not to imagine that a baby pink elephant is standing in the room where you are.  Don’t even think about the strangely-colored pachyderm.  

If at any time while reading this article an image of a pink elephant comes to mind, go back to the top and begin reading all over again.

Each time you imagine a pink elephant, you must start reading the entire article from the top.  No cheating. 

What does this have to do with the Lakers?  Well, right now they have the same problem.  Only it is not that particular animal that I asked you not to imagine as you read this.  Instead, the Lakers have been dwelling on their own self-doubt.

The Lakers are the victims of both self-inflicted wounds and mantras chanted by the media from all across the country. 

It started like this… 

Way back in November, media commentators and writers began chanting 'too many home games to start the season.'  They warned that the back end of the schedule was loaded with away games and long road trips and insisted that the Lakers would not be able to keep up the torrid pace they had set to start the year.

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Sure enough, the Lakers started to lose a couple games on the road to teams with winning records.  That engendered more nay-saying from the media: 'The Lakers cannot beat teams with winning records.'

Then Kobe Bryant broke the index finger on this shooting hand.  He already had a broken pinkie finger on his left hand. 

Another chorus of chants went up!  'Bryant won’t be able to shoot that well with a broken index finger.'

Although Bryant was determined to keep up his game even with a broken index finger, some doubt was creeping into the minds of his teammates.  Bryant assuaged that doubt with a couple of game winning shots.

Then on Christmas Day the Cavaliers came into town and blew away the Lakers.  The chant about not being able to beat winning teams arose once more, louder than before.

This was followed by more injuries to Luke Walton and to Kobe Bryant, who suffered knee, ankle, and back problems to go with his two broken fingers. 

Walton had to endure surgery for a nerve ailment and has only recently returned.  Bryant sat out some games at the end of January and right through the All-Star break.  In all, Bryant rested nearly three weeks.

When he returned, he wasn’t as effective as he has been in the past.  His shooting percentage dropped and, though they will never admit it, so did his teammates’ level of confidence in him and even more so their ability to win without a fully functional Kobe Bryant.

It was not something that they would admit because they probably weren’t conscious of it and still aren’t.  But it’s there and has been through most of the season lurking in the collective subconscious of this team.

The media again got it wrong!  Unable to recognize the Lakers’ loss of self-confidence for what it was, they harangued the team for not having 'a sense of urgency.'

Oh, sure, the Lakers were just taking it easy, coasting along with no sense of urgency.  Nothing could be further from the truth. 

Swallowing everything the media was feeding them, the Lakers started pressing all the more.  What does that mean exactly?  It means every player tries hard to make his mark on the game, to show that he does feel the urgency.  What is the result?  Five individuals on the court, and no teamwork.

Defensive lapses, penetration, turnovers on offense, hurried shots, taking bad shots.  They were playing without any confidence as a team.

Then Andrew Bynum strained his ankle.  Though no one said anything, each Laker knew Bynum would not return after the five-game roadie and had even greater doubts that he would be ready for the playoffs.

That lowered their team confidence even more.  The Lakers bench, criticized all season by the media, would drop off into oblivion without Lamar Odom to lead them.

But the loss of Bynum, the injuries to Bryant, and the inconsistency of the bench don’t matter at all.  Why?  Because the Lakers have a 'Magic Button' they will push when it comes playoff time.

Oh, really?  A 'Magic Button!'  Another outlandish media mantra!  A 'Magic Button,' it sounds like a children’s movie, doesn’t it? 

Even though Derek Fisher came out yesterday and denied that there was a Magic Button, the Lakers will all to a man imagine there is one—just like that peculiar animal I asked you not to think about.

At this point, the Lakers need to take a long hard look at themselves.  Not at the way they are playing or practicing or preparing.  But just at the way they are thinking.  They need to admit to themselves that they are playing without any self-confidence.  They need to face up to their own self-doubt.

More than Andrew Bynum, they need to get their confidence back.  And how do they do that?  Stop listening to the media and stop thinking about what they are doing wrong.  There is nothing wrong with their game.  They are simply thinking too much, pressing too much, and over-reacting instead.

To paraphrase that penultimate basketball writer, Shakespeare: “No one’s game is either good or bad but thinking makes its so.”

And right now the Lakers cannot stop thinking about what has gone wrong or rather what the media mavens have determined is wrong.

But if they want to free themselves to play the way they know they can, they must first realize they are not free but are slaves to the self-doubt and lack of confidence that has befallen the entire team.

Then, they need to shut everyone and everything out, including us writers and NBA commentators, and listen only to their coach, Phil Jackson, and his staff.  That is how they will find their Magic Button.

Where?

Well, one of those early European basketball writers, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, summed up the Magic Button theory quite well: “Magic is believing in yourself, if you can do that, you can make anything happen.”